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In 1959 Dick Stuart, the Pittsburgh Pirates' nonconformist first baseman, returned from the Dominican Republic-Winter League and described to Pirate brass an elderly left-handed pitcher he had seen there. "I told them I'd been hitting against this guy for three years down there and I got two hits off him," says Stuart. "I told them, 'Sign this guy!' But you know how it is with me. Anything Stuart says around here, they say forget it."
Not until a year later, after a Pirate scout saw Stuart's man pitching in Poza Rica, Mexico, did the club sign him, and not until this season did he win a Pirate uniform. Today he is anywhere between 42 and 55 years old and is, as of this moment, the National League's leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. Barrel-chested Diomedes Antonio Olivo has made the grade, all right, and is playing the game with the exuberance of a kid. "Like big league?" he replies to a question. "Whoooooo!"
Diomedes, who pronounces his name Die-omedess, is an old dairy farmer from the Dominican Republic and for nobody knows how many years has been pitching baseball and softball—yes, soft-ball—in Latin America. He smiles irrepressibly at box-seat fans and enemy players but can speak almost no English. Opposing hitters, for their part, would like to know what language he is pitching in. When earned run averages were tallied up last weekend Diomedes Olivo's stood at 1.98. Three weeks ago he pitched in eight of the nine games Pittsburgh played.
"Listen, that guy is older than Satchel Paige," says Johnny Logan, the Pirate utility infielder, who has been in the major leagues for 11 years. Logan belonged to Evansville of the Three-I League when he first met Diomedes. "I played with him in the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1947," says Logan, "and he was a veteran then." When asked his age, Diomedes arches his eyebrows, crinkles his nose, tosses his head and says, "Ooooh, 43." Few believe him.
Standing 6 feet 1 and weighing 197 pounds, Diomedes has high cheekbones and an instant grin. Entering the clubhouse, he beams at his locker. He then beams at teammates sitting glumly in their undershorts and garters. He beams at clubhouse attendant Bo Hallahan. Of Hallahan, Olivo makes only one request—chewing gum. Diomedes does not know the word gum; he just beams at Hallahan and says, "Chick-lett?"
Of Trainer Danny Whelan he asks no rubdowns, no pills, no tonics for his old bones. "He just wants a little liniment if it's a cold day," says Whelan. "I'll tell you—that guy would like to play in a triple-header. He'd pitch the first two games and play outfield in the third. When he doesn't get into a game he gets mad."
When beckoned from the bullpen Diomedes does not trudge to the mound: head down, he marches forward in long, vigorous strides, as if to the roll of drums. Shortstop Dick Groat, who tries to be helpful to oncoming rookie pitchers, says:
"All he wants to know is, 'How many out? What is name of batter?' "
After blazing a sidearm fast ball past the batter, Diomedes celebrates riotously, pounding his glove and stomping around the pitcher's mound in a quick circle. No sooner has the batter looked up than Diomedes is swooping down on him again with his next pitch. "That old man works so fast," says one Pirate official, "that he had Pinson and Robinson and the rest of those Reds batting from the dugout."
Diomedes takes immense pride in his ability to swing a bat, having failed to learn, apparently, that pitchers aren't supposed to know how. "Murtaugh pulled him for a hitter in Cincinnati," remarks Pirate Pitcher Bob Friend, "and he was mad. He said, "I hit, Manager. I pull ball to right.' "